“Is this a lot to ask for, to create a no-fly zone — zone over Ukraine to save people?” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the U.S. Congress on Wednesday. “Is this too much to ask — humanitarian no-fly zone, something that Ukraine — that Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities?”
Well, yes, it is.
It can’t hurt to ask. But it harms us to grant.
The heroic Ukrainian leader, who established his immortality no matter what the Russians do to him in allegedly responding to American officials offering him safe passage that “I need ammunition, not a ride,” spoke in the best interests of his nation. The U.S. should similarly operate in its just interests, too.
No-fly zones come about not through declarations but force. Instituting one means shooting down Russian aircraft. Shooting down Russian aircraft means war, on some level, with Russia.
Just because our interests demand we avoid war with another nuclear power in another hemisphere does not mean we should not maintain merely a rooting interest in Ukraine repelling its invader.
One counts 6,000 reasons to avoid war with Russia. That amounts to the number of Russian nuclear warheads. The United States boasts an economy roughly 15 times larger than Russia’s. But Russia’s nuclear warheads outnumber ours, and they hurt more than dollars dropped from the sky.
Nevertheless, Russia’s outrages inflicted on its smaller neighbor — the bombing of a maternity hospital, the alleged slaughter of 10 waiting in a bread line, an airstrike on a monastery, tank main guns unleashing on apartment buildings — understandably evoke some support for the U.S. joining Ukraine’s war effort.
Congressman Brian Mast (R-Fla.), who knows more than most the sacrifices that war requires, told Fox News, “I absolutely do support a no-fly zone over the Ukraine.”
Others promoting the establishment of a no-fly zone include Gen.Wesley Clark, former ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, and Congressman Adam Kinzinger.
President Biden did the right thing in rejecting the no-fly zone and in announcing another $800 million in aid to Ukraine.
The American people, public polling indicates, agree with the policy of helping Ukraine without provoking a war with Russia. A Quinnipiac poll released earlier this week, for instance, reports Americans favoring NATO’s decision not to institute a no-fly zone by a 54 percent to 32 percent margin. The pollster noted, “Three-quarters of Americans (75 percent) say the U.S. should do whatever it can to help Ukraine, without risking a direct war between the U.S. and Russia, while 17 percent say the U.S. should do whatever it can to help Ukraine, even if it means risking a direct war between the U.S. and Russia.”
Zelensky, perhaps grasping the quixotic nature of his request, explained as an addendum: “If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative.” Plan B called for weapons systems, stronger sanctions, and other assistance. Much of what Zelensky asked for here seems reasonable and responsible. Just because our interests demand we avoid war with another nuclear power in another hemisphere does not mean we should not maintain merely a rooting interest in Ukraine repelling its invader.
In making his pitch, Zelensky invoked Pearl Harbor, Mount Rushmore, 9/11, and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He omitted Washington’s Farewell Address.
“Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation,” the address, delivered in print rather than from a podium, by Washington (but written mainly by Alexander Hamilton) explained. “Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.”
These “disinterested warnings of a parting friend” arrived amid the Revolutionary Wars initiated by France against various monarchical powers of Europe. Then as now, many Americans took sides against a familiar foe (monarchies then, the Soviet Union’s successor state now). Then as now, a charismatic foreigner (Citizen Genêt then, Volodymyr Zelensky now) attempted to gin up Americans regarding the righteousness of his cause. Then as now, a few Americans left America to join the fight in Europe.
Washington, and his ghostwriter Hamilton, regarded all this as foolishness undermining the new nation’s interests. The president had earlier proclaimed neutrality on Revolutionary France’s wars, Hamilton promoted the position under the pen name Pacificus, and the Congress eventually came around to codifying the stance.
“Why forgo the advantages of so peculiar a situation?” Washington famously asked in the Farewell Address. “Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?”
The deaths of thousands of Russians in Ukraine illustrate the dangers of sticking one’s head where it does not belong. Rather than learn from Russian mistakes, some wish for America to replicate them.
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